International Women’s Day

March 9, 2014

Yesterday, March 8, the City of Burlington acknowledged International Women’s Day by holding an event at City Hall celebrating women. It was exceptionally well-organized and well-attended and I, among several others, had the privilege of speaking to attendees. Here is my speech, offered in memory of my Laura.

On the evening of this day, exactly nine years ago, my daughter Laura had just finished celebrating her friend Alicia’s birthday and, upon returning to her car parked on College Street, was abducted, raped, and murdered. It has become the custom of my family and me to observe this day quietly and alone together.

Ellen Sklar, a member of the board of directors of the Laura Kate Winterbottom Memorial Fund has been representing the LKW Fund at the on-going community meetings to address violence against women and on the planning committee for this International Women’s Day. When she informed me about Mayor Weinberger’s proclamation and invited me and Ned to attend, my initial reaction was that I could not because March 8 is too painful and sad a day for me. But then my family and I sat together and discussed today’s event and ultimately decided that participating might afford an opportunity for us to do something positive in Laura’s memory on this otherwise difficult day. So Ned and I are here.

When Laura was killed, and the busy work involving a funeral and memorial service was over, I went into a very deep depression. I didn’t eat or bathe. I just stayed in bed and cried. I was inconsolable and didn’t think I could survive what had happened to Laura and didn’t really want to. My husband, who was grieving deeply as well, took me from my bed and got me to a doctor who prescribed an anti-depressant. Shortly after, I started bereavement counseling and joined Compassionate Friends and a murder support group, both not far from where I live.

That, in a nutshell, was just the very beginning of a long and often difficult journey along a rut-filled road to recovery. That I was able to face life again without my daughter Laura and function again productively I attribute in large part to all the support I received from my family, friends, even strangers, and from law enforcement, my court-appointed advocates, the state’s attorneys assigned to Laura’s case and many others in this wonderful community of Burlington. I also attribute it to the examples set by others, men as well as women, but mostly women, one of whom is also here today.

When my family and I were exploring setting up Laura’s Fund, Sandy Baird and Grant Crichfield met with me and my daughter Leigh to offer us advice. Sandy was the first mother I had met who had lost a child in a violent and brutal way. I marveled at her courage, strength, and resilience. She ignited that first spark of hope that not only could I survive but also that I might be able to do good works for others in Laura’s name as she has done for her daughter Caroline through the Caroline Fund. I remain immensely grateful to her.

I have found myself in many difficult life situations, not just the loss of my daughter, looking to the example of other women to encourage me, inspire me, guide me, and sustain me.

There is a saying that I like and will paraphrase: when you come to the end of all that you know, you can be sure of two things, that there will be ground on which to stand, or you will be given wings. That ground upon which I stood when Laura was killed and continue to stand has often been the foundation laid by other women who have faced challenges, misfortunes, and tragedies, dealt with them and surmounted them. Their examples, like wings, have lifted me and carried me forwards. In other words, they have made me feel I am not alone and have walked me through and beyond.

I am here today to celebrate the women who overcome obstacles; the women who hit bottom and get back up and begin climbing to a new height; the women who struggle but won’t be subdued, repressed, or defeated; the women who don’t equate failure with defeat but as an opportunity to try again; the women who serve boldly and those who serve quietly and unobtrusively; the women who nurture, guide, mentor, and teach others, sometimes equipped with only experience, or patience ,or love, or faith; the women of tremendous will and fortitude who are undaunted by barriers and strive to balance the scales of justice and equality. These are all women of grit and grace. I applaud them and thank them.